Checking on Seattle's giving

Seattle ranks among the top 15 cities in having organizations on the annual "Chronicle of Philanthropy" list of the 400 largest charities.

Seattle ranks among the top 15 cities in having organizations on the annual "Chronicle of Philanthropy" list of the 400 largest charities.

We all love lists.  The Puget Sound Business Journal and its sister publications around the country have made a mini-industry of lists.  Biggest law firms. Largest private companies and so on.  So when I paged through the Chronicle of Philanthropy the other day, its annual list was interesting reading.

This was the 20th anniversary of the Philanthropy 400 list of the biggest fund raisers so the comparisons over 20 years were interesting.  The organization that raised the largest amount of money in 1991 was the Salvation Army at about $1 billion. In 2009, the largest group was United Way Worldwide at more than $3.8 billion.

The total in 1991 was $28 billion; the total in 2009 hit $69 billion, according to the Chronicle. 

The list covers the 400 charities that raise the most from private sources.  The recession was tough on the group with a 6 percent median decline in contributions. The expectations for this year are modest with the median gain forecast at just 1 percent, meaning half expect to do a little better and half expect to do a little worse. (The publication separately assesses the assets of the wealthiest foundations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Seattle, it turns out, is a fairly well-placed city on the list.  With seven organizations that are among the largest charities, it is one of 15 cities with more than five members of the Philanthropy 400. Seattle has seven members.  The big cities, naturally enough, have the most members — New York, 61; Washington, 22; San Francisco, 14; Boston, 12, and Atlanta and Los Angeles each with 11.

The top organization in our area was World Vision, the Federal Way-based Christian relief, development and advocacy organization that works with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. They raised $870.5 million in 2009, up 4.5 percent from the previous year. World Vision has been in the top 400 every year since 1991.

Next up was the University of Washington at No. 44 with $324.1 million, up 6.3 percent from the year before.  The UW was one of 114 colleges and universities on the list. Washington State University also made the list, by the way, at No. 257 with $74.1 million.

Others on the list include:

The Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, No. 151, at $130.5 million. It’s better known here by its acronym, PATH, the Seattle-based international nonprofit organization that works to break longstanding cycles of poor health.

The Seattle Foundation, No. 276, $66.9 million.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, No. 305, $60.1 million.  The “Hutch” was a bit of a surprise since this is the first year it has been on the list.  One would have thought it was a long-standing member.

Seattle Art Museum, No. 382, $45 million. SAM also was new to the list this year.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Guild Association, No. 391, $43.3 million.

The Philanthropy 400 counts cash and other types of gifts including stock, real estate, and other non-cash gifts.  The Journal said it uses the organizations’ 990 forms (informational tax returns that charities must file with the Internal Revenue Service) plus annual reports, financial statements and a Chronicle survey.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy writes on business and economic issues for Crosscut. He was a business editor and columnist for a number of years at The Seattle Times.